Disqus

Monday, January 12, 2009

Staying involved after January 29th...

This is my 3rd closure process as a parent (at least one of my children's schools have been on the list each time).  I don't need to tell all of you how exhausting it is -- physically and emotionally.  The one silver lining:  each time, we see more parents and others step into an activist role to advocate for better Seattle public schools.  Imagine if we could tap into that all that energy and talent (analysis, strategy, communication, etc.) to work proactively in partnership with the district rather than in opposition.

That was what a bunch of us were thinking 4 years ago after our unified resistance against Raj Manhas' initial closure plan.  We vowed to stay involved regardless of the fate of our schools, and that led to the formation of CPPS (Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle).  We've had our ups and downs, but we have been working non-stop since then.  

Of course, we're not the only ones.  Beth, Charlie, Melissa, and many of the folks at this blog will likely remain active as before (as least, we all hope so!)  And there are other great groups working tirelessly for public education for all, like the League of Education Voters.  All need your support... especially in hard times like these.

In the 4 short years I've been involved in district-wide issues, we already have a new superintendent, much of the senior staff has changed, and most of the School Board are new.  It is up to us -- parents and community -- to remain a consistent, active participant to ensure a great system for all.  Big, important changes are not going to happen without a groundswell of support, and that takes work to build.

So, before we lose momentum, I'd like to proposition all of you who were energized by this closure process (like I was 4 years ago):  Please stay involved.  Don't give up and turn away.  The long-term health of our city depends on a solid education for all.

CPPS is one way to stay involved, and we need help.  Almost all of us in CPPS are active in our individual school PTAs and other groups specific to our interests, but CPPS provides us a platform to advocate for all schools and all kids.  We all benefit when the whole district thrives; conversely (as we've seen), we all pay the price when the district struggles.  

I attended a bunch of closure meetings and kept up with this blog, and have frequently heard comments like:
                "Why doesn't the district do marketing to fill the empty seats?"
                "So many of the problems are because of the confusing or flawed enrollment process."
                "How is that they don't understand our needs? Are they (district and Board) even listening to us?"
                "How can we get schools to work together rather than compete against each other?"
                "How do we mobilize parents BEFORE a crisis?"

These are precisely the areas we've been working on in CPPS, and will continue to work on post-Jan 29.  We're a member of a national organization (www.parents4publicschools.org) and our chapters across the country have worked on these areas with success.  Here are examples of what we've done this year in Seattle:

- Advocated for improved parent & community involvement in "capacity management" even before the specific changes were named, both privately and publicly (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/7uwjvh).  We have voiced parent concerns directly to all School Board members.  The cluster meetings we set up (attended by Board members) took a bigger view than saving individual schools.
- We've worked on a number of "What Parents Want" issues -- including setting up open forums (e.g. enrollment, middle school rigor), assembling parent "study groups", and advocating with staff and the board.
- We've brought clusters together with cluster meetings -- not just about capacity management but initiatives like joint marketing (e.g. the central cluster has been planning a single enrollment information brochure). 
- With our network of school liaisons and programs like "hidden gems", we've worked to help communities correct misperceptions about their schools with the goal of increased enrollment.
- We are mobilizing parents (in partnership with the League of Education Voters) to lend their voices and concerns to this legislative session in Olympia to preserve education funding and improve it through the re-visioning of Basic Ed task force.
- We've built up a communications infrastructure for connecting school communities with each other and with the district.  We have contacts with district staff, the School Board, and parents.  Our email newsletter goes out to more than 900 people (and growing).  Our goal is ensuring that parents' voices are heard.

If this sub-optimal closure process has opened your eyes to the need to fix Seattle Public Schools, please join us... whether signing up for our email newsletter, volunteering to work on one of these areas, or making a financial donation to support our work.  For more information on CPPS, see www.cppsofseattle.org or email contact@cppsofseattle.org.  There's so much more we can do with your help.

21 comments:

TechyMom said...

Andrew,

Have you considered setting up a discussion forum, like this one, on the CPPS site? Or posting a thread here for discussion of the same topic around the same time, perhaps including a summary of the in-person discussion. I'd like to be able to contribute to the discussions on particular topics, but often find the meetings don't fit with my business travel schedule.

pjmanley said...

Good comments. I was weeks into this closure process before I ever heard of CPPS. Not their fault, I was busy on other things, but we need a centralized, go-to clubhouse like these blogs, that we all keep in touch with each other through, so nothing sneaks by or falls out of the public eye. The numbers will grow and we'll get better decisions and schools as a result.

uxolo said...

Sorry to be a naysayer, but CPPS has a yahoo site and has asked people who move into a critical mode to leave the site. It is one thing to keep a positive outlook, it is another to refuse to allow the public to be critical.


I think our schools need governing boards which include parents, grandparents, community members and the schools' educators. Our schools are not organized uniformly with BLTs meeting during the day and without elected members.

TechyMom said...

url, please?

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think it is still active, but here it is:
CPPS Yahoo Group

The url is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cppsofseattle/

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

The CPPS yahoo site is still active, but doesn't get as much traffic as this site. There is a weekly posting on our yahoo site from PPS national that is a survey of education related articles on the media and other information (e.g. grant opportunities) that many folks find interesting. In general, a blog site (like this site) works better for facilitated discussions, which is why I prefer posting here for discussions. And -- nothing to do with technology -- it is the efforts of people like Beth, Charlie & Melissa that keep the "critical mass" going on this site. Their efforts are hard to reproduce. And Harium's blog also gets a lot of traffic. So, it doesn't seem like Seattle school advocates need another site to compete for their attention. That said, there are all sorts of things I would love to do on the CPPS web site, if I can find the right volunteers to help. For instance, I'd love to have a detailed Enrollment Guide with frequent asked questions, so parents can share what they've learned with other parents, and we can work with the district to get official responses. A lot of great information is trapped in old threads in this blog and elsewhere and deserve to be easier to find. Contact me if you're interested... andrewk at cppsofseattle.org.

TechyMom said...

That makes sense. It would be nice if you could start threads here to go with the cluster meetings. I've wanted to attend, but haven't been able to.

MadronaGreen said...

All of you - Beth, Andrew, Melissa, Charlie - who keep this site active and going deserve a big Thank You from those of us newbies going through our first round of school closures.

If nothing else, it was helpful to know that the two adults in our house weren't the only folks who looked at the closure proposals and thought that they didn't make any sense.

Moose said...

This is OT, but since I have not heard much about it on the blogs or at meetings, I will post my query here: does anyone know how many RIFs can come out of these building and program closures? I understand that the hope is that there will not be many RIFs due to retirement/attrition but it is certainly possible that more senior teachers will bump junior ones. Or am I mistaken?

Sharon R. said...

PTA Rally for Basic Education Feb. 26 noon - Join the Seattle PTSA bus!
(www.seattlecouncilptsa.org for more info)
Not to take anything away from CPPS, but it is interesting to me that PTAs are still not viewed as advocacy organizations beyond the school level. I have stayed involved in the PTA structure over the years because it is the biggest education organization in the city of Seattle (13,000 members) /State of Washington (150,000 members) and the country (5 million members). Your PTA dues help pay for a full-time advocate in Olympia during the legislative session and child welfare/ education advocates at the national level. The Seattle Council PTSA supports local PTAs in their family engagement outreach and in their advocacy efforts with local and state decision-makers. I urge all of you who are PTA members to make better use of the resources and networks available to you and encourage your PTA leaders to pass advocacy information on to you - especially about the need to support the restructuring of Basic Education right now! Sign up at to attend the PTA rally for Public Education on February 26 at noon.
The Seattle Council PTSA is sponsoring a bus to take advocates to Olympia - join us!
Sharon Rodgers
President, Seattle Council of PTSAs

seattle citizen said...

Kudos to CPPS for establishing a clearinghouse website.
Kudos to PTSA for being long-term with lots of members dedicated.
Kudos to THIS blog and its main instigators for keeping it rolling.

Now, if there were only a way to combine the three into a powerhouse advocacy group. Three important elements could combine:
1) CPPS website for access to materials, links, calendars..
2) This blog for substantive discussion threads
3) PTSA for consistentcy, for long-term relationships (which can be benefited by satellite, non-related discusssion groups and websites)

My point being how to build a strong, powerful, effective, coalition to advocate for all students.

seattle citizen said...

Moose, this was on a thread somewhere in here, but I can't go looking for it so I'll recapitulate:
My understanding is that these would not be, technically, "RIFs" (reduction in force). THAT happens when the district is MERELY reducing staff, say by ten percent. THEN the bumping would start, seniors bumping juniors.
THIS ROUND, like last, will result in some teachers being "displaced." Those teachers are still on continuing contracts, so they are still getting a paycheck the next year, somehow. The way it went in the last round, displaced teachers:
1)a bizarre first round of hiring that was open to all (in...April?) when new jobs for next year started to be posted (bizarre because one would think Displaced staff would ALWAYS have first dibs as soon as they knew they would be displaced...) Displaced staff were given a free interview on this: if they wanted the job, they were guaranteed an interview, at least, but not the job.
2) A round of displaced getting first dibs; they can have any job they are qualified for (in categories, such as Language Arts, etc). They can just call the principal and TAKE the job, but of course professional courtesy suggests a conversation with the principal first (this bypasses the building BLT, which typically has a hiring committee that has some say). This also leads to uncomfortable, and perhaps unfair to students, situations where a teacher wants a job in a school that might not want the teacher, or a school that the teacher might not "fit." Oh well. Such is one of the benefits of the union.
This round continues until the end of summer. The teacher can turn down jobs or take them at will.
Once school starts, I THINK the district can just stick the teacher somewhere: They're on contract, getting paid, they gotta work somewhere...
If you really want all the details (I could be slightly off on one or more here) go the SEA union website and click on the CBA for certificated staff. (Collective Bargaining Agreement) That's the contract, and it is fairly clear, but not always around displacement...

seattle citizen said...

oh, and I should have said that teachers COULDN'T bump in the wake of the last closures; they could only take new openings.

(PROOFREAD, citizen, PROOFREAD!!!)

(thanks, word verifier! I am a "chappy", and happy! In my snappy serape!

Moose said...

Seattle citizen - thanks so much!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Moose, that is one thing that many parents overlook thinking "Well, this doesn't concern my school." There can easily be a ripple effect from RIFs as senior teachers can bump junior teachers and it is not just closing or receiving schools. Senior teachers have seniority anywhere so newer (read: usually younger) teachers can get bumped.

seattle citizen said...

Moose, no problem!

That whole discussion about educators and how they are placed and moved could be a thread unto itself.

The writing has been on the walls for at least a decade: 1) the public doesn't like the idea of teachers being kept on due to union regs (not that I'm damning the regs; they, including the "displaced" idea ans seniority etc certainly have some benefits...), or arbitrarily being moved around buildings. I suspect that principals don't like it much, either, and certainly it's a thorn in District's side. Certainly those that sit on the sidelines don't like it; they see that it creates some problems, and since those on the sidelines are often parent/guardians, they focus on the potential harm it does the learning communinty (their children) and might not see some of the benefits to educators of having job security, etc.
2)As far as I can tell, there is a groundswell politically and in districts towards moving away from seniority and other union-esque benefits and more towards a merit-based system and towards the ability to hire and fire at will. This, too might have benefits, but the big issue here, as it see it, is a)on what basis do you hire or fire, and how makes that decision; and b)on what basis do you determine merit?
Principals, superintendents, other power players with the ability to hire and fire can be good, and creating viable communities and treating their staff well, both economically and in terms of the respect afforded by collaboration, etc, or they can be bad...bad hair day, dictitorial, capricious, prone to nepotism and whimsical nonsensities.
And how do they determine merit? A yearly standardized test is virtually useless for this, and certainly doesn't take into account all sorts of factors beyond an educator's control.

Me? I'd vote for a system that a) allows a better control over the creation of a learning community while protecting staff from capricious and unfounded negative moves (how, you ask? Haven't a clue!). I'd also vote for classroom-based assessments that meet some sort of standards (another tricky wicket) AND have a detailed metric on outside factors that can be mixed in with the assessment results.
I'd also empanel a...panel of "experts" that could somehow be fair and neutral and they would be empowered to determine quality educating, given the metrics and the performance they see, the classroom materials and assignments, teacher skills in a)teaching, b) managing, c) working "teachable moments" for all their worth...

With a business model we'll get product. Teachers will direct-instruct (not always a bad thing, in some applications); assessments will weed out (by "failing") any student who isn't a widget and any teacher with a heart.

I always vote for the heart; who's to say a weak educator with a strong heart isn't a better teacher than a strong educator with a weak heart?

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, I might be wrong, but as I've written here I think the bumping only happens in general RIF, not in the instance of isolated closures. In the closure scenario, displaced teachers get dibs on jobs, but can't bump someone out of another position.
Please correct me if I'm wrong.

If Im right, there is no ripple effect as teachers bump down the line. The main somewhat negative consequence (besides the displaced teacher's own stress, let's not forget that!) is that schools have to take any displaced teacher who has the right credential, even if this is a poor "fit" (an idea itself that bears thinking about: What IS a poor fit, and who gets to decide? If a teacher has the credential, shouldn't it be assumed that they are professional enough to fit in? And it's also kinda unrealistic to expect to be able to be able to build a "dream team" of staff. NO place is like that! Not in the real world, and if a person had the power to do this I think it could have negative consequences in other ways....

(Ah, word verifer: "pusto"...pesto gone bad?)

Moose said...

Hiring and RIFs is a thread in itself, I agree! Even without a RIF, the hiring process is like no other I have ever seen (I was on a hiring committee two years ago for my children's school). The hiring committee at a school can only ask questions that have been scripted previously (ones the applicants see prior to the interview) and cannot ask any follow up or clarification queries. This process may not (is likely not) unique to SPS, but it sure was an eye-opener for me. However, I am pulling this thread off-topic, so I will stop...

(seattle citizen -- I love that you include the word verifier in your posts. This time mine is "haver" -- past tense of "hover" perhaps?)

seattle citizen said...

Yes, Moose, as in "when I was a schoolboy, my parents havered over me like Peregrine falcons over a fledgling..."

"gullerm"...hmmm....I got nuthin'.

Jet City mom said...

Senior teachers have seniority anywhere so newer (read: usually younger) teachers can get bumped.

What I have viewed is that with late hiring in the Seattle school district in comparison to surrounding districts is this. Newish teachers- some very good- are told the school can't rehire them until late summer early fall or later. Because these teachers have bills & families, they take jobs elsewhere when they cannot wait any longer.

However, the school eventually does get the (I-728 ? )money that allows them to hire staff for the students- but at that point- it is whomever is left. Sometimes that is someone who has seniority, but who has been moving around the district not able to find a cohesive team , sometimes it is someone who has been working as a sub and trying to get in as a classroom teacher.

Our family has been a supporter of unions- however- union can make things unecessarily complicated. In both my spouses workplace ( Boeing) and in SPS, the job description and classification is manipulated.

For example, a school may really want to retain a young teacher, who is is danger of being RIF'd, so the job is posted in a way that narrows the applicants to include the teachers background.

It is also cumbersome to actually fire a teacher with seniority & I have seen teachers hired for another job in the school, which they are unsuited for in the hopes that they would quit. ( they did...eventually)

While I understand reasoning to unions for principals as well ( although not as much- I galled me to no end to hear one principal say when our building finally was able to look for a a principal who wanted to be there- " It doesn't matter to me, the union will make sure I still have a job & make 6 figures"). I would prefer job security come because they are a skilled member of the school team, not because they have hung onto a SPS position for years.

Charlie Mas said...

There are couple of exceptions. I believe that teachers at the Flight schools are exempted from bumping during a RIF.

Can anyone confirm that?